for markets and against capitalism?

MarketsNotCapitalismCoverIf you were to look over my very old site, you’d see that I was once a comrade of the left-libertarians. One of the earliest pieces I wrote for Black Crayon begins this way:

The Libertarian Partisans and the anarcho-capitalists insist that there’s no difference between the terms capitalism and free market. I, on the other hand, am devotedly in favor of a free market and not so hot on capitalism.

One of the last pieces I wrote for Black Crayon was a sort of Dear John to left-libertarianism. It was called "Reluctant Capitalist."

Shortly after writing that, I no longer even considered myself "reluctant" in my support of capitalism, and when I look over that parting shot, I find it still leans much farther to the (libertarian-)left than I do now or have done in years. (I was, for example, still assuming that corporations were necessarily a form of state privilege and that the Industrial Revolution was a bad thing!)

But by that point I was no longer writing for my own Black Crayon site. I was writing for the Libertarian Enterprise ("The 3 ‘E’s of the Minimum Wage"), LRC ("Straw Men & Ham Sandwiches"), and Mises Daily ("Can Markets Predict Elections?").

My feelings about the C-word are still best summarized in "Straw Men & Ham Sandwiches," at LRC, and "’capitalism’ is a reclaimed word," here on my blog.

My take on the pro-market/anti-capitalist left-libertarians more specifically is best captured by Matt Zwolinski’s recent review in the Freeman of the 2011 book Markets Not Capitalism. For me, these are the book review’s two key paragraphs:

There is much that traditional libertarians should learn from in the pages of this book. Libertarianism is a revolutionary creed, and Chartier and Johnson remind us of the dangers of allowing it to be transformed into a staid apology for the status quo. At the same time, however, not all defenses of the status quo should be dismissed so quickly. Traditional libertarians have presented powerful arguments to suggest that inequality is not the problem critics from the left claim it to be, to show that sweatshop labor often provides workers in the developing world with the best available option for improving their lives, and so on.

These arguments may be flawed, but one cannot disprove them merely by showing that we do not live in a purely free market (as a number of left-libertarians have attempted to do). For while it is true that our capitalist system is not entirely free, neither is it entirely unfree. And the outcomes this system produces, such as income inequality and hierarchical firms, are the result of a complicated mix of government intervention, private injustice, and voluntary choice. Sorting this out, and deciding what justice requires of us in a partially unjust world, is difficult business. So while left-libertarians are right to point out the ways in which our current system falls short of the ideal, traditional libertarians are also right to defend the pockets of freedom that exist against critics on the left and right who misunderstand and misrepresent what that freedom means.


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